An alleged victim of a former Southern Baptist pastor facing felony charges of sexual battery by an authority figure testified recently in court they entered into a long-term sexual relationship because the preacher convinced him it was a part of God’s plan.
According to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, the young man, now 21, said Steven Haney convinced him for six years that he was doing it for God.
“I was always trying to get out of it,” the alleged victim was quoted as testifying. “He always told me to step it up. If a pastor of 20 years prays with you at the pulpit to step it up, when you’re 15 or 16 years old, you believe it.”
Police arrested Haney, 47, former pastor of Walnut Grove Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., in July, after the young man told detectives Haney molested him at the church and other locations around Memphis between September 2001 and December 2006.
In his testimony last month in General Sessions Criminal Court in Shelby County, Tenn., the alleged victim said after soul searching, he came to believe the activity was wrong and went to police. He said he secretly recorded a telephone call about sex with Haney and was wired by police for audio and video in a car where he met Haney at a Sonic restaurant.
“Steve persuaded me to have sex,” the young man testified. “He said it was a test of faith.” He said the sex occurred in the pastor’s office, at Haney’s home and at Haney’s mother’s home.
Haney, who did not testify, is free on $25,000 bond. Police said in July they were investigating the possibility that there were other victims.
Haney’s arrest was one of several news stories in recent months alleging molestation by pastors of Southern Baptist churches.
Last week John Bonine, pastor of Sierra Heights Baptist Church in Fresno, Calif., pleaded not guilty to 107 counts of sexual misconduct involving two girls.
Bonine, 43, had been pastor at the church for about four years. Before that he worked at two churches in Missouri. Police believe the abuse may have begun when Bonine was still in Missouri.
His successor at Sandy Baptist Church in Hillsboro, Mo., told a FOX News affiliate he did not believe Bonine was the type of person who would be involved in something like that. Bonine’s parents said in a statement: “We believe in our son. We don’t want this tried in the media. It should be left for the courts to decide.”
Bonine is being held on $5.5 million bond. His next hearing is scheduled Sept. 27. Since Bonine’s crime allegedly included more than one victim, according to the Fresno Bee, if convicted he could be sentenced to life in prison.
A work group of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee discussed Bonine’s case Monday in a meeting in Nashville, Tenn. The work group is considering how to respond to a motion referred this year by the Southern Baptist Convention to study the feasibility of a denomination-wide database of Southern Baptist clergy who have been “credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse.”
Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the SBC, the nation’s second-largest religious group behind Roman Catholics, is lagging behind other denominations in beginning to address the problem of clergy sexual abuse.
Brown says Southern Baptists piecemeal approach allows sexual predators to move from church to church undetected. Confronted by evidence of sexual misconduct by clergy, she says churches too often try to keep it quiet to avoid embarrassment, allowing the offending pastor to move on to another church with his reputation intact.
Another victims’ advocate, Dee Ann Miller, compared the practice to a recent Reader’s Digest report about schools that fail to pass along information on predators, resulting in other districts hiring teachers who resigned instead of facing allegations.
It’s called “passing the trash,” said a Kansas State University professor who has testified as an expert witness in nearly 50 school abuse cases.
“Of all places, most would least likely believe that ‘passing the trash’ occurs in churches,” said Miller, who operates the Web site TakeCourage.org. “Of course, problems always multiply in the petri dishes of denial and secrecy.”
Miller, a former Southern Baptist missionary, has written two books about collusion based on her experience of sexual assault by a superior while on the mission field.
Miller says the real demons facing the denomination’s response to sexual abuse are an acronym she calls “DIM” thinking–denial, ignorance and minimization.
On Monday SNAP asked Southern Baptist leaders to consider hearing from victims and experts outside the denomination in responding to the motion referred by the SBC.
Monday’s work group meeting consisted mainly of going over resources on sexual abuse by clergy, including a new resource page on the convention’s Web site, but leaders said they weren’t yet prepared to recommend any plan of action. The Executive Committee is scheduled to meet two more times, in February and in June, before it must report progress on the referral at the SBC annual meeting in 2008.
Roger Oldham, vice president of convention relations, told a Nashville TV station the convention is looking for a broad approach to “first of all, protect autonomy of the local church, and second, protect the children, too.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.